How Vaccinations are Impacting Divorce and Custody Issues During the COVID-19 Pandemic

female child role-playing a doctor holding doll and a syringe

The uncertainties brought by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have left many parents with more questions than answers regarding the safety of their children. Knowing what information is the most up-to-date or not has made the vaccination roll-out create debate across the nation, including in family law courts throughout Maryland and D.C.

Parents only want to make the safest decision regarding their children’s health. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just approved vaccinations for kids under the age of 16, parents may disagree on whether their child should receive a COVID-19 inoculation. Predicting how a court would decide these disputes is also hard to predict, though case precedent in other vaccine cases seems to favor such preventative measures.

Are COVID-19 Vaccinations Currently Available for Children?

With the U.S. adult population quick to get their vaccinations for COVID-19, the next big step toward achieving herd immunity is getting children vaccinated. This will be crucial to support schools in creating safe and healthy learning environments for the resumption of normal educational operations.

As of May, kids who are 12 years and older can receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer-BioNTech shared the results of a trial where 2,260 children in this age group received the vaccine and were monitored for clinical safety and efficacy. The findings were so positive that the company applied to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to expand the emergency use to include this age group which was approved on May 10, 2021. Moderna has also applied to the FDA to expand the emergency use of its Covid vaccine for teens early in June.

Does it Matter which Parent Makes Decisions about Vaccines?

If your current child custody agreement is joint, you both have an equal say in the decision-making process regarding vaccines and other important medical issues. If one parent has sole legal custody, the other parent has no choice though it is still worth sharing concerns.

In joint custody situations where both parents can’t agree on these types of issues, court action may be necessary to reach a resolution. Typically, this requires one parent to file a motion to decide on the matter. Having a skilled Maryland custody attorney by your side to ensure you present a solid case to the presiding judge is critical in these matters.

Case Precedents May Impact Future COVID-19 Vaccine Disputes

If you are considering divorce, currently in the middle of one, or have already completed the process, your duty to your child’s well-being never stops. If you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement about your already eligible child regarding COVID-19 vaccination, there are some steps you can take when preparing your case for court:

Evidence Supporting Your View of Vaccinations

In the courtroom, you will have to present evidence that supports your view regarding COVID-19 vaccine options available or that will be available for your child. Keep in mind that the court gives a parent’s personal opinion very little weight in medical treatment disputes. It would help if you had relevant testimony available from your child’s current physician and expert testimony that backs up your assertions.

How Involved are You?

Another critical factor when disputing medical care like inoculations is the level of involvement you’ve had in your child’s treatment. For example, if your spouse has never really participated in healthcare issues that affect your child, the court may be more likely to side with your decision.

Religious Beliefs

Parents who practice a faith that forbids the use of vaccinations may affect a court’s determination in a dispute on the matter. Keep in mind that the court will also try to determine if denying a vaccine for religious reasons is hiding the parent’s personal desire for their child.

Case Precedents

Family courts that have to determine the best interests of a child when it comes to medical procedures and treatments will factor in these and many other factors when making a decision. Previously decided cases regarding these same issues will also significantly influence the judge’s final determination.

In 2015, the District of Columbia went against a father who had the final authority in a joint custody dispute over allowing his child to receive the HPV vaccine. The court opted to remove his tie-breaking decision and instead have a third party handle the conflict.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued a ruling where a mother, who objected to her infant being vaccinated on religious grounds, could not do so. The Department of Social Services had become involved and petitioned the court and was granted limited guardianship over the child. The mother tried to appeal this decision but lost because the 2019 findings by the court felt that while religious beliefs were to be respected, this could not be in ways that posed significant life or health risks to the child.

Consult with Experienced Maryland Child Custody Attorneys

Regardless of your personal wishes for what types of medical care your child can or cannot receive, Maryland law requires your child’s best interests to be the top priority in any decision made. Personal views on medicine and even your own religious beliefs may not be enough to ensure your preferences in their care are respected. Often, you will have to demonstrate how your choice in their care benefits your child’s life and development.

As experienced family law and child custody attorneys, we at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl have years of successful case outcomes regarding these highly sensitive matters. Lead attorney Thomas Stahl has helped thousands of families throughout the state negotiate custody and visitation situations that benefit their parent-child relationship after divorce and/or separation. Contact his firm today at (410) 696-4326, or reach us online, to schedule a consultation.

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